Originally posted in 2006, this article has been helpful to thousands of Smith Lake property buyers. I hear comments all the time from thankful newcomers out there and I’m really glad it’s been useful in saving them some time, money, and aggravation. I have helped many of these people find their home on the lake; some I have helped multiple times.
If you utilize my services as a real estate agent, you will be pleased (and I will be much obliged). If you choose another, I wish you the best of luck.
Please feel free to comment below if you find this article useful – Brian
I have some valuable advice to help people that may be shopping for a Smith Lake house or lot. It’s always good to do your homework before buying real estate, but when you buy lake property, it’s absolutely essential that you know what you’re looking at! Because so much of your value is in your lot, you’ll hear much focus on that part of it.
Because I’m a real estate agent, I tend to look at things from a resale standpoint. Here are a few of my recommendations:
Deed Restricted or “Anything Goes!” – Sure, it would be nice to have horses grazing in your front 40 and chickens perched in your boathouse, right? Unfortunately, if you have a beautiful house in an unrestricted area, the reality is you could have a shack from Deliverance next door. If it’s not there when you build, just remember, it could pop up at any time. The majority of buyers are concerned about the homes around them as helping to maintain the integrity of the community and protect property values. Some SD’s are more restrictive then others. Some are gated. They will all fall into this category. Restrictions don’t have to be extensive. Just make sure they at least cover the basics like no cars in the yard up on blocks or livestock. That kind of stuff 😉
Location! Location! Location??? – This is important to some but not to all. Some people will want easy accessibility to cities such as Arley, Cullman, and Jasper. Many will commute from Birmingham & Huntsville. But to many, it’s not an issue or they really like the privacy of being out farther. There are absolutely gorgeous homes and lots all over this lake.
Here’s a Fact About “Location” – The majority of people I work with who end up buying homes that say they wanted to be close to I-65 or I-22, end up buying the perfect lake house regardless of where it is! When you walk into “your” lake house, you know it. Suddenly, driving 10-15 minutes longer doesn’t really matter. Don’t get hung up on a certain location. You just might miss out on “YOUR” perfect lake house!
“Year Round Water” (YRW) – People have many different definitions of “year round”. My definition is based on actual Smith Lake reservoir rules and historical data. The “Rule” dictates the water level usually doesn’t dip below 496.16 msl at it’s annual lowest from late October through early January. Extreme drought situations are the exception. Late 2007 through early 2008 is an example if this. Under drought conditions, you cannot rely on this data.
Under normal conditions, “Year Round Water” (YRW) would be:
- Without a boat lift – A minimum of 15 feet of water at full pool (510 msl) under the bow or lowest part of the boathouse.
- With a boat lift – A minimum of 19 feet of water at full pool (510 msl) under the bow or lowest part of the boathouse. I have added 4 feet for the boat lift. Check with your boat lift supplier for how much clearance you will need.
I will check this for my clients. I check at the bow, the stern, and all four corners of the boathouse. You don’t want your boathouse to get hung up on a shallow corner. Sometimes a boathouse can be drifted in one direction or another to avoid such obstacles, but sometimes not. I use a portable battery-powered depth finder, but you can use a long string (20+’) wrapped around a stick with a weight tied to the end. Just mark the string at every foot with a knot.
Here’s what you do to determine the “Full-Pool” depth using the string method:
- At the point you want to measure, unroll the string until it hits the lake bottom (if it never hits bottom with a 20+ foot string, you’re good and you can stop here)
- Pick it up and move it around a bit to be sure you’re not just hung-up on something
- From there, just mark the water surface with your finger and pull the string out
- Count your knots from the bottom to your marked spot
- Write this number down and date it
- See what the water level is for that day and write it down
- Take the actual lake level for that day and subtract it from the full-pool level of 510
- Take that number and ADD it to the depth measurement you took with your string
- This will be the “Full Pool” depth of the area you measured
- Repeat your measurement on all four corners of the boat house and at the bow and stern of the slip area
“Seasonal Water” – Remember, this is a man made lake controlled by Alabama Power. Water levels do fluctuate for a number of reasons. The main reason is of course power consumption and the need for Alabama Power to produce more hydro-electric energy. When the water is drawn down, it goes in one of two directions: it either goes DOWN or it goes AWAY. If it goes down and your boathouse will still float and you can navigate your boat, it’s usually considered “year round” If your water goes away, it’s usually because you have a sandy shoreline or other very gradual slope at and into the water, or you are in a shallow water slough. If that’s the case, your water will go away. If it does, your boathouse may sit on the ground. The only exception to this would be if your lot is such that you are allowed to “chase the water”. This means just what it says – you move your boathouse toward the water so that it continues to float. This is a good option if you visit your lake house often or live there full time. Even “chasing the water” lots are considered seasonal but they do tend to hold a higher value than “seasonal” but not as high as “year round” Confused yet???
Side Bar – Seasonal refers to the off-season or winter months when the water level is lowered. I always have felt that the current definition of “seasonal” is a bit of a misnomer since “seasonal” to me means the busy season or summer when the water is highest and it seems to me that a more appropriate term for the time when water is lowest should be “non-seasonal” or “off-season”….anyway…
Don’t Be Afraid of Branches, Creeks or Sloughs. Many of them offer good water depth, less boat traffic beating up your boathouse and protection from high winds. The downside to a branch, creek or slough is a decreased view. Most of them look across the water, but sometimes you can get a “channel view” which is pretty nice.
Accessibility to the Water is Huge! The easier it is to get to the water and back to the house (fewer steps), the more desirable the property is. Higher up homes tend to offer that big lake view but will wear you out climbing up from your boat after a full day in the sun. And don’t forget all the toys, coolers, and gear you may have to carry.
Solid rock shorelines are ideal. Not only are they beautiful and protective of your precious water frontage, but may also indicate deep water if it’s a ledge. If it’s softer sandstone, it will need wrapping immediately. Alabama Power is not too accommodating in allowing owners to “reclaim” lost shoreline from erosion so protect it now!
Boathouses, Swim Piers, Boat Lifts and PWC Floats – Don’t assume the power company will permit a boathouse. Look at a survey of the land. If it’s on a wide body of water and the landlines run straight into the water and it’s a 100′ of waterfront or more, you’ll probably be allowed to have the maximum size boathouse – 2 slip with swim pier with 60′ bridge. If your landlines are not straight into the water, you could be encroaching on someone else’s waterway and even if you have 100′ of shoreline, you could be restricted in size to a single slip. This is a factor and important from a resale standpoint and it does affect value due to usability. Many branches, creeks, and sloughs will offer the max boathouse but some may limit the length of the bridge. Why is this important? Because the shorter the bridge, the greater chance it may not float year round. Again, check your depth. You may want to call Alabama Power to check if the boathouse is permittable (new word) as a contingency in your offer.
Septic Systems and Older Homes – For many years there was no regulation on septic systems around the lake. Therefore, if you find yourself buying an older home, always – always – always get a septic inspection. Firstly (and mainly) to see if there is one and that it’s size is adequate. Secondly, to be sure it’s functioning correctly. Also, look out for shared systems. Yes, sometimes there is more then one house hooked up to the same tank. I’ve seen this happen mainly in family-owned adjacent parcels. If that situation is ok with you, just make sure there is a written easement and a written agreement as to repairs. Personally, I don’t think it’s a good arrangement.
If there is an issue with a septic system, it could be a costly repair. On the other hand, it could be a simple fix. Don’t let issues with septic systems scare you away from a potentially good buy or the lake home you love. Get repair estimates before you buy.
One last thing – Make sure you use RidX every month and get it pumped out every few years if it’s used a lot.
Septic Systems and Newer Homes – Get a septic inspection. There are two types of systems in our area – Engineered and Gravity Flow – Engineered septic systems are basically pump-assisted systems which defy the law of gravity and makes waste flow up hill instead of down to your holding tank. Sometimes it’s necessary to have an engineered system depending on perk results and terrain. Why do I mention it? Because engineered systems will require more maintenance and expense and I’m told that the pumps have an average life span of 8-10 years. Gravity Flow are just that – gravity carries the waste to the holding tank. The only maintenance is just your monthly RidX and the occasional pumping out if you use the house a lot. For those of you, who have never had a house with a septic tank, don’t be afraid of it. Just don’t put anything in it that can not break down quickly. No cooking oil, fat, food, cigarette butts, etc. A septic guy told me that instead of RidX, you can pour old milk or other dairy products in to keep the system healthy.
Get a Home Inspection – by a good, qualified, licensed inspector and make sure that inspector can explain to you just what is important and what it not. Make sure they know how to inspect the condition of the boathouse and pay the extra fee (if any) for this service.
– Article originally posted on March 12, 2006 by Brian Czup
My clients have good purchasing experiences. I specialize in the out-of-town buyer and make the process easier than you can imagine. I am consistently one of the “Top Five” selling agents at Smith Lake year after year. I feel it’s because I spend MORE TIME with my clients then most other agents. I’m a stickler for details and I’ll never rush you out the door or push you into a decision. It’s just not my style.
Call me at: (205) 388-2019 – Or better yet, tell me what you’re looking for.